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Is the grass always greener? Take these 3 steps to happiness...

Is the grass always greener? Well no, not according to songwriter Gregory Porter:

“Brown grass, nothing but brown grass, on the other side……”

Clearly our Greg was going through a bit of heartbreak when he penned these lyrics, hinting at the mistake of sacrificing true love in the ‘search of something new’ and discovering that the tempting, enticing proverbial green grass was nowhere to be found. This clever play on a well-loved proverb – the grass is always greener – causes me momentarily to pause to ponder the human condition of constantly seeing other circumstances as more desirable than our own when, in reality – and as Mr Porter describes - this is often far from the truth.

As Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and other social media platforms saturate our attention, image based conversations have become our new norm and I am left wondering whether another well-loved saying – “a picture paints a thousand words” – still holds true in the social media age. Rather, I share the well-documented concern that our digital lives absorb us into a synthetic, one dimensional world that projects an embellished image of the perfect utopia, inevitably leading to a ‘compare and despair’ outcome for so many of us. The whiteness of teeth, the slimness of waists, the flawlessness of make-up, the perfection of relationships, the beauty of homes that will never be ours - these visions invade our envious eyes, flooding our senses with glimpses of unachievable lives seemingly lived in the Garden of Eden, making our own particular patch appear to be little more than a parched, impoverished scrub-land.

Pattern recognition is inherent within humans, comparison providing a method to navigate our lives and make sense of the world around us. It is evolutionary and therefore instinctive – humans are a tribal species and, as such, appreciating your standing within your tribe may have once been not only crucial to building relationships but a matter of survival. Additionally, the images projected through social media are cemented on top of our capitalist culture where, as we strive for more and better, comparison is our way of life. However, if the famous words of Theodore Roosevelt are true – “comparison is the thief of joy” – how can we ever hope to find happiness?

Of course, in order to answer that question, we first need to understand what happiness is and that, my dear reader, is where things get a little tricky. Definitions of ‘happiness’ differ wildly depending on where you look and who you speak to with cultural influences, personal preferences and many other considerations feeding our own personal construct of what it is to be happy. If this were a full-blown book then I would no doubt dedicate a whole chunky chapter to the definition of happiness. As it isn’t, here are my thoughts. Happiness is not a destination. It’s not something to be found or measured. It isn’t a life status to achieve by following a plan. Happiness is not a constant – rather it is a peak, something that is usually experienced fleetingly and, for that reason, I would describe it as an emotion rather than a state of being. I would also describe happiness as a collective term for a continuum of emotions, moving from contentment through pleasure, bliss, joy, elation and ecstasy, some of which are more permanent than others. Perhaps, most importantly, happiness is free and available to everybody…..but, and it is a big but, its existence is ultimately contingent on personal choice. At moments when it is appropriate, do you choose to be happy or do you choose to experience a different emotion?

That’s all very well but if we want to experience happiness, where do we start? I can’t hope to answer such a question in one blog post but here are some initial mullings to contemplate…..

Step 1: Celebration of Self

The ‘compare and despair’ syndrome is comprehensively documented and undoubtedly one of the mortal enemies of happiness. Therefore, although recognising and halting this destructive pattern may not be the only answer, it’s a very good place to break ground.

Although comparison is inherent in all of us, at the deepest core we are not in competition with others but are, in reality, running our own race. Think of yourself as a marathon runner. Apart from

a very small percentage of participants who are elite athletes, the vast majority of marathon runners are not in a race with anybody but themselves. Their initial goal is to complete the course or, if they are a seasoned runner, they may be attempting to beat their personal best. How any other runner performs is completely irrelevant.

If a shift can be made to adopting the approach of comparison with oneself rather than with others then life can potentially take on a whole new direction. Imagine being able to truly appreciate others - “you are so successful” - whilst celebrating yourself - “I’m also successful but in a different way”. After all, the world is big enough for everybody to have a place, make their mark and run their race at a pace that is meaningful to them. How would looking within, at yourself, to establish your benchmark rather than without, at others, to compare and contrast actually feel and how would it change your perspective? How is your current performance measuring up to your best performance and how can you improve on your best performance going into the future?

As an extension of the celebration of the self, a further step to take towards happiness is the appreciation of the green shoots that are all around you that often go unnoticed. So….

Step 2: Notice the grass under your feet



Take stock…

…..what have you got?

Make time on a daily basis to try to appreciate the things that you have in your life. Good health? A close-knit family? Friends that you love spending time with? A secure job? If none of these are true then dig deeper – if you have a roof over your head and food on your plate then that’s a great place to start. Please don’t misunderstand as I’m not underestimating the real struggles and challenges that many people face but we spend so much time seeking happiness that we often miss the obvious, that which is right under our nose or, to continue the grass analogy, under our feet.

Be in the moment, taking time to appreciate what your grass looks like on any given day. For example, there are rare days when I know that I’m walking through lush pastures – those days when the greenery is dazzling and I can barely breathe for the sweetness in the air. For me, these days are often formed around life’s special events that take me beyond the norm – a wedding, a treasured family gathering, a long-awaited holiday. However these days can also be unexpectedly triggered by every-day occurrences such as simply sitting in my garden on a sunny day, grabbing a catch-up coffee with friends, enjoying a home-cooked meal with family or listening

to a favourite song that inspires great memories. In these moments I consciously attempt to take it all in –

sometimes literally taking myself to the corner of the room in order to capture the whole scene à la voyeur style, filing the image away in my mind under the label ‘happy’. I know that, in these moments, I am experiencing something meaningful to me (ie not happiness as experienced by anybody else). If you don’t recognise what happiness is for you, how can you ever know where you will find it again?

Also on these days, be mindful that happiness does not exist in isolation from the other emotions that you feel – rather it is one of the ingredients of the cocktail of emotions that makes you human. My personal favourite cocktail ingredient is gin – however, drinking too much of my favourite tipple without the tonic would make me quite ill. Or, to put it another way and return to our favourite proverb of the moment, your grass cannot be green without the rain that it receives on those days when the sky is grey and stormy. To strive to live in a state of complete happiness without any variation is therefore not only unnatural but unrealistic.

Being aware of what makes you happy is so important - so if it helps you to achieve and retain awareness then use tools – for example, recording your thoughts in a gratitude journal may work for you. Or ensure that you start and end each day by being mindful of one thing to be grateful for. Begin to consciously recognise when you are happy – learn to really enjoy those moments, reflect on them, cherish them and store them away with a label - for they are your happy moments.

Or, to put it another way - stop searching, start feeling.

Step 3: No rocket science required

The third step may seem a little motherhood and apple pie but a good reminder for us all. Once you have discovered what it is that makes you happy, simply do more of it. That’s it. No rocket science required here.

So you have my three simple steps to happiness. They aren’t the complete answer but, as with so many things, small steps often lay a great foundation. With these thoughts, I was thinking of rewriting Mr Porter's song (although, to manage your expectations, I don’t think that I’ll be giving up the day job any time soon to pursue a career as a lyricist!). It goes something like this:

The grass isn’t always brown, nor is it always green. No, it’s a combination that will look different each day. Some days it may look, on the surface, like scorched earth but on these days simply remember – even in the most inhospitable places on earth, there are always signs of life to be found so if you choose to dig deep enough, you will find those fragile sprigs of greenery. On some days, you may have to wade through your long, luscious grass and on these days be sure to choose to breathe in every last drop of the perfumed air and pause, just long enough, to admire the breath-taking vista.

Most importantly, always remember that this is your grass - it belongs to you and nobody else - so own it, whatever it looks like. In reality, on most days your grass may be a little patchy with a palette of varying splatterings of green and brown and many colours in-between. However, know this – there will always be some grass to soften the cushion of not only your sole but also your soul.

Until next time,


The Life Stash

Ps: I’m going to throw in a bonus step to happiness (aren’t you the lucky reader!).

Ok, for anybody who isn’t familiar with the beautiful voice that is Gregory Porter, please do yourself a favour and follow this link. Then simply sit back, close your eyes and open your heart and soul to this…….

You’re welcome.

('Brown Grass' is taken from Gregory Porter's album 'Liquid Spirit').

Andrea Chalk is creator of The Life Stash


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